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American troops are going back to Iraq

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Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

It's official: President Barack Obama is sending American troops back to Iraq. Though they probably won't do any fighting, it's a sign that the US is increasingly concerned about the situation on the ground in Iraq.

Late Monday afternoon, President Obama informed Speaker of the House John Boehner that "up to" 275 American troops would be deploying to Iraq "to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad." The War Powers Resolution requires the President notify the Speaker of the House, among others, when deploying US troops "into the territory, airspace or waters of a foreign nation, while equipped for combat."

This isn't a combat deployment. In fact, judging from Obama's statement, it probably isn't a mission aimed at helping the Iraqi army fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), it's main antagonist. It seems, instead, that the purpose is to assist in the evacuation of some American personnel from the embassy in Baghdad.

According to an accompanying letter from the Press Secretary's office, "the personnel will provide assistance to the Department of State in connection with the temporary relocation of some staff rom the US Embassy in Baghdad to the US Consulates General in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman."

Basra is a major city in southeastern Iraq, far away from the fighting. Amman is the capital of Jordan. While Erbil, in northeastern Iraq, is much closer to the fighting, it's safely within Kurdish-held territory. The semi-autonomous Kurdish region has beefy security forces, militias called the peshmerga, and ISIS has yet to seriously challenge them.

So this doesn't mean the US is going to war in Iraq again, or even helping the Iraqis fight theirs. It does, however, say that the US wants some of its embassy personnel out of Baghdad. The reasons why could be safety, or they could be something more subtle (say, to liase more effectively with the Kurdish authorities). According to the Press Secretary statement, "the US embassy in Baghdad remains open, and a substantial majority of the US Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place if the embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission." The full Obama letter to Speaker Boehner is posted below:

War Powers Iraq Letter